Living 130 km apart, in two different cities of Uttar Pradesh, 60-year-old Seema Singh and Nidhi Shukla, who is in her 30s, are joined by fear. Seema has CCTVs placed around her Lucknow house, and constantly monitors the feed on a screen placed next to the television in their living room. Nidhi, who spent nine days in prayers during Navratras at Lakhimpur Khiri, says she wonders if she will ever stop looking over her shoulder.
These days, the two nurse a fresh apprehension: that murder accused and newly elected MLA Amanmani Tripathi will find a place in the Yogi Adityanath government, putting “justice” further out of their reach. So, on March 27, 14 years after Nidhi’s sister Madhumita was killed, for which Amarmani Tripathi and his wife were convicted, and 20 months after Seema’s daughter Sara died in an accident for which Amanmani Tripathi was held guilty by a CBI probe, the two came together for a joint press conference.
They appealed to the BJP not to induct Amanmani or any of his family members into the party, as he could influence the CBI investigation. They also made an appeal that Amarmani and his wife Madhumani be shifted out of Gorakhpur District Jail.
Sitting amidst documents relating to the case at her home, Seema’s hopes are pinned on the trial in Sara’s death that is set to begin in a CBI court in Ghaziabad. In its chargesheet filed in February, the CBI held Amanmani guilty, saying his wife Sara had died of strangulation instead of injuries in a road accident as claimed by him.
The news of Amanmani’s election as an Independent came as a shock, Seema says. He had got bail a few days before the election results. The Tripathi family hails from a district near Yogi’s stronghold Gorakhpur.
She was already in touch with Nidhi, Seema adds. “Having read about her in the newspapers, I thought of her when I first realised that my daughter was murdered and not killed in an accident.” The two talked on the phone, as Seema sought out Nidhi for advice on the powerful Tripathi family. The press conference was the first time they met.
At the time Sara died, Amanmani was part of the then ruling Samajwadi Party. He had escaped without a scratch from the July 2015 accident that killed Sara, raising Seema’s suspicions. “Mujhe laga Sara ko nyaya nahin mil payega agar woh phir se ruling party mein shaamil ho gaya (I thought Sara will never get justice if Amanmani again joined the ruling party),” says Seema.
Nidhi knew what Seema was going through. “I agreed to join her fight as I have seen what they (the Tripathis) are capable of. My sister was in her early 20s (when she died) and Amarmani was a Cabinet minister (in the UP BSP government). I had to file a petition in the Supreme Court to get the case transferred from Lucknow to Dehradun.”
Amarmani and Madhumani were sentenced to life by the Dehradun court in 2007, and in 2012, shifted to Gorakhpur jail. In February 2013, both were admitted to BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur for ailments like “nausea, depression and abdominal pain”. Their long hospital stay came to limelight after Sara’s death in July 2015, and in December that year, they were shifted back to jail.
Nidhi says she had to file repeated RTIs to get information from the jail as well as the medical college on their illness. She continues to file at least four to five RTIs each month, she says, from the jail administration to the Governor’s House in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where she feels the Tripathis might file a “mercy petition”.
Now Nidhi and Seema have come out with a pamphlet carrying photos of the bodies of Madhumita and Sara, and say they will go door to door with it against any political party that takes in Amanmani or his relatives.
Sitting underneath a clock whose hands are stuck at 10 minutes to 11, Seema says life for her came to a standstill after Sara’s death at the age of 27. Seema’s husband died in 2009 of cancer. While Seema has three other children, she says she decided not to involve them in the fight, “knowing the dangers involved”.
She has kept all of Sara’s things — her cosmetics, dresses, even the post-it notes she left stuck on her desk of things to do and buy.
All the activity centres around the four CCTVs in the two-storey house, covering the entry points. Her eyes constantly on the screen showing the CCTV feed, Seema says, “The fight has just started. Obviously we are afraid.” She is also planning to move the Supreme Court to get Amanmani’s bail cancelled.
Nidhi’s fight is against the “special treatment” to the Tripathis. Enrolled for Masters at Bhatkhande University in Lucknow, she says she gave up her ambition to become a professional singer to pursue younger sister Madhumita’s case. Madhumita a budding poetess, was murdered on May 9, 2003. She was pregnant at the time, and the DNA of the foetus later matched Amarmani.
Nidhi too is virtually alone in this battle, despite her two brothers. Their father died in 1996, and the family makes a living from ancestral land. Despite 14 years having passed, the threats to give up the case haven’t ceased, she says. “Life abhi bhi free nahin lagti hai. Dar rehta hai, koi peeche se na aa jaye (My life still doesn’t feel like my own. I feel afraid that someone will crawl up from behind).”